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Story Characters Write to "Dear Abby"

Fall

Return to Better Letters: Lesson Plans for Teaching Letter Writing

Subjects Arts & Humanities
  • Language Arts
  • Literature

Grades
  • 3-5

  • 6-8

  • 9-12

Brief Description

Students play the roles of a book character and an advice columnist in this activity involving writing friendly letters and solving problems.

Objectives

Students will
  • discuss how authors use problem solving and/or conflict as a literary device in stories and literature.
  • offer advice in response to letters sent to an advice columnist for their local newspaper.
  • role play a character who faces a problem in a book they have read by writing a letter to an advice columnist in the voice of that character.
  • role play an advice columnist by writing a response to an advice-seeking letter written by one of their classmates.
  • use the correct friendly letter format in all writing.

Keywords

friendly, letter, character, conflict, problem, advice

Materials Needed[shopmaterials]

  • sample letters (of a non-controversial in nature) to an advice columnist (e.g., Dear Abby) from the local newspaper
  • friendly letter rubric (3 rubric options provided)

Lesson Plan

In this lesson, students take on the roles of
1) a character in their reading and
2) an advice columnist.

This lesson can be used with any story/book in which a character faces a problem.

Conflict is a common literary device used by authors -- from Dr. Seuss and J.K. Rowling to Tennessee Williams and William Shakespeare -- to further the plot of their stories. Invite students to talk about their favorite literature or stories they have read in class. What conflicts or problems did the characters in those stories face? Brainstorm with students a list of the books, characters, and their problems.

Next, share a handful of Dear Abby columns (or of another advice columnist who is published in your local newspaper). Select columns that deal with everyday non-controversial problems. Read aloud a letter or two and ask students to put themselves in the shoes of the advice columnist. What advice would they give the letter writer? Then read aloud the advice the columnist gave. Did any students give the same advice?

Review with students the Format for a Friendly Letter.

Redirect students attention to the brainstormed list of problems their favorite characters face. Ask students to choose one of those characters and write a letter to an advice columnist as if they were that character. In their letters, students should tell a little bit about themselves, the situation that led to the problem, and the details of the problem. The letter should end with a plea to the columnist to offer advice on solving the problem.

When students finish writing, collect and redistribute their letters so that each student has a letter written by a classmate. Now invite students to take on the role of the advice columnist, reading the letter they have been handed and responding to it as the columnist might respond.

This activity is especially effective if presented when reading aloud a book to the entire class. Stop reading at a place in the story that sets up a problem. This "cliffhanger is the perfect spot to introduce the Dear Abby activity. When the activity is complete, finish reading the book to see how the author resolved the problem. Did any of the "advice columnists resolve the problem in a similar way?

Resources

Teachers might find the following resources useful:

Assessment

Use or adapt one of the rubrics below to assess students adherence to the correct Format for a Friendly Letter.

Lesson Plan Source

Education World

Submitted By

Gary Hopkins

National Standards

LANGUAGE ARTS: English

See more language arts lessons from Education World.

Return to the letter-writing lesson plan page.

Originally published 9/27/2002
Links last updated 05/28/2007

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